The cuisine of North Africa has emerged on dining tables across America. With culinary palates increasingly challenged by the quest for new sensations, North African cuisine has inspired the latest cooking trend by bringing together the sweet-hot flavor of cinnamon with traditional ingredients of this region.
For most people, North Africa conjures up visions of the great pyramids amidst a backdrop of subtle colors and isolated sand dunes. But countries like Egypt and her neighbors in the Maghreb—the collective region made up by Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco—offer far more than just a feast for the eyes. You’ll know you’ve found the world’s eighth wonder when the warm and comforting aroma of cinnamon, a key ingredient in North African cuisine, first greets you.
Cinnamon and cumin are two of the most prevalent spices used in the region’s fare. Cinnamon’s woody flavor, with both hot and sweet tones, brings perfect balance to grains, vegetables, fruits and meat. Cumin’s earthy, pungent flavor brings depth to stews and soups. Other popular flavors like ginger, bay leaf, fennel, thyme, turmeric and red pepper help to create a distinctive regional taste.
Sharing the borders of the Mediterranean Sea has created commonalities among North African and European cuisines. Both areas rely on fresh, simple ingredients infused with high flavor to create their specialties. The predominantly vegetarian fare relies mostly on interesting, sweet nuts; tangy fruits like oranges, lemons, dates, figs, raisins, apricots, papaya and mango; regional vegetables like eggplants, tomatoes and sweet potatoes; and hearty grains and legumes like lentils, rice, pasta, couscous, chickpeas and fava beans.
While meat and chicken are quite expensive to serve daily, North African cuisine lays out the red carpet for special occasions like the diffa (banquet). Lamb and beef are always a popular crowd pleaser and are often served in soups and stews. And tradition states that a resourceful chef will always have chicken on hand to entertain a surprise guest with the most hospitable generosity. Pork is never eaten for religious reasons.
Tune in tomorrow for a recipe for Orange and Radish Salad with Cinnamon Vinaigrette. And on Friday, we’ll feature a recipe for Cinnamon Beef Tagine.
Book Pick of the Day:
Classic Vegetarian Cooking from the Middle East & North Africa